Friday, May 28, 2010

Breaking stuff is hard to do: a lesson in letting go

I was annoyed when Ann broke my ceramic pie plate, none too pleased when she shattered my clay pot from Africa. I was really huffy when she broke the delicate Nativity scene and livid when she broke the handle on my Three Little Kittens coffee cup.

None of the first three items could be repaired, but the coffee cup was a clean break so I used a Superglue-like bonding agent to knit the handle back to the mug. I let it cure for a week. It felt solid.

It lasted approximately four sips and came off in my hand, drenching me, the table, the upholstered chair and my laptop with hot coffee.

And finally, I got the message: It was time to let go.

Ann was my friend for nearly 30 years. We started as work colleagues; I was her editor and she was a reporter, and it was all laughable because she was 12 years my senior and I was a newbie. A girl couldn’t have had a kinder or better mentor. And, as time went by, a kinder of better friend.

In the important matters of life, we had nothing in common. She had a wonderful husband and two darling boys. I had a few rotten-ass boyfriends and two cats. She was as gentle as a spring rain and had an easy laugh. I was earthier and practically brayed with hysteria at my own jokes.

Who knows why people become friends? I know only that we did. It was one of those rare-for-me instances when I knew how blessed I was in real time.

When my mom was diagnosed with cancer, Ann appeared, unbidden, at my doorstep and comforted me. When Ann was diagnosed with cancer, I appeared at her doorstep, also unbidden, and, I hope, comforted her. I had planned to be somewhere else, but there was nowhere else I wanted to be more. I wanted to show her my engagement ring from Carl, whom she and husband Lyle had met and of whom they approved. When we said goodbye, she promised me she would call me on my wedding day, seven months hence.

It was the only promise she ever broke.

For the next six months, we talked occasionally, and I wrote letters. I sent her a teddy bear she had once sent me “to hug when other huggees are absent” and told her he was a stand-in until I could get there again and spend a week taking her to chemo, which was formulated to thwart the very aggressive cancer.

Then her son called to tell me that her system had shut down unexpectedly. The chemo was too harsh for such a gentle soul. I wept until I was exhausted, gathered myself, got on a plane and went to the memorial service. I comforted friends and hugged family and never shed a tear. I would celebrate her life, dammit, dammit, dammit.

When I got home, things began to break. That ceramic pie plate? She gave that to me. I found it shattered on the wood floor. The clay pot? Also from her. It fell over while I was dusting. Smashed. The Nativity scene? A Christmas gift from Ann some years ago. It fell out of a box of Christmas decorations and hit the concrete floor in my storage unit. Nothing else broke but that.

I had just mentioned the coffee mug to Carl a few days earlier and told him she had bought it for me for my birthday almost 20 years ago. Not more than a week later, my kitten jumped on the dining room table but didn’t quite make it, pulling the place mat and the cup to the floor, where the handle snapped off.

I glued it on. It came off.

I was furious.

But at whom? At the kitten for being… a kitten? At Carl for not catching the cup? At God for being a selfish hog who took my friend home too soon?

Yes, illogically, at all of those things. Being angry was easier than confessing that I sometimes wept secret, bitter tears that ambushed me at odd moments. It was easier than admitting that the things that had shattered were messages that my anger would only break my own heart over and over again. It was easier to be angry than it was to let go.

It was as though Letting Go 101 was a class, and I kept getting an F. I kept taking the makeup test and getting an F. Summer school? F. Remedial Letting Go? Big fat F.

I hope to do better on the next test. Signs suggest the student is improving. After making a purchase the other day at the OC swap meet, a vendor chased me down as I walked up the aisle. "This is for you. I thought you might like this," he said as he handed me, unbidden, a new coffee mug.


  1. I'm sorry you lost a friend, Cathy. But I found your blog and am thinking of you. Big hug, Donna

  2. Oh, Cathy ... Holly had me read this and I think I shed the tears you were unable to shed. Letting go is perhaps one of the hardest lessons in life! What a heartfelt and gifted writer you are! This is a great reflection as we embark on this Memorial Day weekend. Thinking of you (and your friend, Ann)! Blessings, Warren

  3. A lovely, lovely piece. You were both fortunate to have one another as friends and you will always have her presence in your heart. Hugs... Dawson